You don’t tug on Superman’s cape
You don’t spit into the wind
You don’t pull the mask of the old Lone Ranger
And you don’t mess around with Slats

Will apologies to Jim Croce, Michael Nylander found out the hard way that you don’t mess around with Rangers President/GM Glen Sather.

The bizarre Nylander contract negotiations ended within the opening hours of the 2007 NHL free agent frenzy when the Rangers decided not to choose between Chris Drury and Scott Gomez. Slats decided to have his cake and eat it too by bringing in the UFAs.

While Nylander was a “perfect” playmaker for Jaromir Jagr, the Rangers did get manage to get younger by signing Gomez (27) and Drury (30) – a feat that is a new idea in Rangers land.

If reports out of Edmonton are true and Nylander has signed with the Oilers, then one has to wonder what #92 was thinking. IF he thinks he is going to duplicate last season with Geoff Sanderson as his winger instead of Jaromir Jagr, then he sadly mistaken.

While some might feel that the contracts are on the excessive side, they really aren’t when you look at the contact that Daniel Briere received from the Philadelphia Flyers and the contract that Brian Rafalski signed with the Detroit Red Wings.

The main concern is how Sather is going to slot in his remaining free agents. On the plus side, Karel Rachunek is mostly gone (barring a lowball contract) and Kevin Weekes probably can only return if he accepts a significant pay cut from his nearly $2 million contract. That still leaves four main cogs that need to be signed: Sean Avery, Marcel Hossa, Henrik Lundqvist, Petr Prucha and Brendan Shanahan. One positive point is that only Shanahan is an UFA. The other players are Group 2 Free Agents and are subject to compensation. It appears the Blueshirts have the salary cap room to take care of business.

“We still have other people we have to sign,” Sather said on the Rangers official web site. “… We think we’ve calculated things out, so we’re still in the good position.”

As it stands, the most important person in the Rangers organization now becomes Cameron Hope – the team’s Vice President, Hockey Administration, Research and Development (aka salary cap specialist).

While the Rangers seem to have their salary cap ducks in a row, I can’t help but wonder if Sather is finished retooling the Rangers. On his “Daily News” blog, John Dellapina offered the following insight: “As of 7:30 p.m., the Rangers were one of a handful of teams still in the hunt for Sheldon Souray, the 30-year-old defenseman who is coming off a career year with the Montreal Canadiens.” Of course, he did post that about 20 minutes prior to signing Drury.

If the Blueshirts are still in the market for a defenseman, then a couple of things might have happen first. Sather might have to make a choice between Hossa and Prucha and he might have to move a defenseman (i.e. Marek Malik). If the Rangers do not follow through on their intentions of buying out Darius Kasparaitis, they might have some extra salary cap wiggle room to keep both forwards or even to pursue one of the other free agent blueliners.

Putting aside the financial machinations, the biggest problem at the Garden is deciding which new center gets to wear #23. Frankly, the Rangers should insist that Gomez select another number because the last ex-Devil who wore #23 in New Jersey was Bruce Driver.

Even with that black cloud on the horizon, it is a great day to be a Ranger fan. The Blueshirts sign two top centers, the Devils take a big hit in losing Gomez and Rafalski, the Islanders are a decimated team and the Buffalo Sabres are down two centers. Remember, that is still early in the free agent frenzy, but things are expected to move quickly as the big names are taken off the market.

As far as Souray goes, I might just pass if I were Sather.  I would look to save some cap space and see what role players might be available in a couple of weeks – maybe a nice physical presence for the fourth line or a top notch defensive forward.  The Rangers could even look to upgrade in goal with a netter backup than Steve Valiquette.  While Alex Auld had a rough year for Florida last season, he was a solid performer for Vancouver the year prior to that.

At the very least, the Rangers will need a couple of million dollars in reserve as the season progresses to cover themselves in case of injuries or if they want to go on a mid-season trading spree.


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